Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers Review

Magic 2014 does a great job of faithfully duplicating the experience of playing the real-life card game and in that regard, Duels of the Planeswalkers never fails to deliver.

With over fourteen million players actively playing it, Magic: The Gathering is one of the most popular trading card games ever made. Over the years, multiple video games have tried to emulate what makes this collectible card game so complex and captivating, but few developers have succeeded in that endeavor. But without a doubt, Stainless Games is one of the successful developers. For the past few years, Stainless Games has focused on the yearly iteration of Magic: The Gathering and not only has the developer proven that a compelling video game based on card game is possible, but it has also made each entry in the series significantly better to the previous one. Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers is no exception, since this is one of the most electrifying entries in the series.

Magic 2014 - 01

The user interface is slick and fast.

For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering puts you in the shoes of a powerful wizard known as a planeswalker. Planeswalkers have a deck filled with lands, powerful spells and fierce creatures and the main objective is to use those cards to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero. But since Magic is extremely strategic, there are multiple ways to defeat the opponent.

As soon as newcomers launch Magic 2014, they should start playing the tutorial. This aspect is fully featured and the tutorial does a great job of explaining the basics. Concepts such as tapping, untapping, casting, attacking, blocking, turn order and so on and so forth are first introduced in this mode, so novices should take their time and sink their teeth into the tutorial before moving on to the single-player campaign. Once the tutorial is over, a useful hint system can be enabled to clear doubts in the middle of duels. When you’ve mastered some of the basic rules, you’re ready to play the main campaign.

Although the core of the single-player campaign remains pretty much the same, the inclusion of short FMVs and voice acting is fantastic, mainly because it proves that the developer isn’t comfortable releasing the same game from last year but with new cards. In the campaign, you play against a series of enemies and when you defeat a tier of opponents, you can challenge a planeswalker. Defeating a planeswalker unlocks a new deck and collecting all decks should take you some time.

Magic 2014 - 02

Attack with all!

Apart from the single-player campaign and managing your deck via an intuitive editor, Duels of the Planeswalkers offers a handful of other modes. In challenge mode, you need to beat a specific scenario using the cards given and figuring out how to use those cards to beat the opponent in a specific number of turns can be eminently satisfying. Then there’s a free-for-all mode where you play against up to three opponents. At first, this mode can be quite confusing, but like three-dimensional chess, the sense of reward you get in exchange is unparallelled. Undoubtedly, four player free-for-all can be demanding and time-consuming, but players that are up to the challenge will definitely find it thrilling and gripping.

A variation of the aforementioned modes is called two-headed giant where two opponents with 20 life each face an opponent that has 40 life. As in free-for-all, only players who have mastered the basic rules should play this mode. Then again, the sense of triumph you get when you defeat the opponent is immense. Finally, there’s also some multiplayer modes. Playing against others is loads of fun, but if this is your first introduction to the world of Magic: The Gathering, it’ll take some time before you can defeat other players. Overall, the multiplayer aspect of the game is fantastic, since you can play both cooperatively and competitively.

But without a doubt, one of the best modes is sealed play. As veteran players probably know, sealed play has always been an important part of real-life tournaments and thankfully, this mode doesn’t disappoint. In sealed play, you open virtual booster packs and you use random cards to create a 40-card deck. As you make progress in this mode, you get additional booster packs that will help make your deck more powerful. Since the cards you get from these packs are completely random, making a playable deck is an art form in and of itself.

Magic 2014 - 03

The Two-headed Giant mode is confusing at first, but extremely rewarding.

But for all its strengths, Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers isn’t without some issues. The game can be unforgiving even on the lowest difficulty setting, so newcomers may have problems when it comes to mastering certain mechanics. I must admit I found the first hours of Magic 2014 quite frustrating, but once I remembered the basic rules, facing opponents, customizing decks and planning strategies became eminently satisfying.

In the end, this entry in the annuals series does a great job of faithfully duplicating the experience of playing the real-life card game and in that regard, Duels of the Planeswalkers never fails to deliver.